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East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs


Nowell: Jack in a Box

By P G Tips
May 21 2019

East plays west this weekend in both Premiership semi finals, with the bookmakers predicting a Saracens: Exeter finale. Bath must once more sit out this stage of the season having failed to live up to hope and hype and managing only ‘third best in the west’ and last minute entry to the Champions Cup. Ardent fans across the country will though be watching these games to see who triumphs as must Bath’s new coaching team, to see how it is done. Who then do we think will win and who, as neutrals would we want to?  

Two themes have dominated the push for Top 4 in this closely competitive season where 5 points (one bonus point win) embrace places 4 to 9 in the final table: culture and renewal. Culture has served Exeter and Saracens well; it is the basis of their togetherness, winning ethos and consistency. They deservedly top the table, having set the pace all year. Gloucester and Northampton have been renewed and revived after several years of disappointment by new coaches with new approaches. Northampton finished with same number of league points as Harlequins and Bath, grabbing 4th place ahead of Harlequins, another club in renewal mode, by virtue of one more win. Trailing them, Bath in 6th and Sale, a league point short in 7th could have forced their way into the playoffs with one more penalty goaled or one less tackle missed in any one of a number of matches. So will the culture of the “established’ front runner see them home, or do the reviving challengers have one more surprise in them? Let’s take a look.

 

Exeter Chiefs

Eight points clear, at the close of an attritional season, with seemingly interchangeable selections at tight 5, centre and wing, they have already dispatched Saints – last weekend. After initial shocks and on level pegging at half time they still found the self belief, determination and intensity to win the second half 19-0. They build their game on dominance of possession, constant change to point of attack and relentless pressure. In Ewers, Armand and Kvesic they possess one of the best balanced, most physical back rows in the tournament and behind the scrum the silky skills of Henry Slade, now close to world class at outside centre plus the jack-in –a-box energy of Jack Nowell. It is hard to see them slipping up at home.

 

Northampton Saints

 

Saints fans will be delighted with their return to the Top 4 where they were an ever present from 2011-2015, especially since their revival involved the biggest risk. Chris Boyd has them playing a very different style to the Mallinder years of driving from the set piece and hard carrying frontal assault from forwards and midfield. Against Chiefs Saints used the wider game that has served them best this campaign, moving the ball away from crowded areas as swiftly as possible and counter attacking through broken field whenever a chance appeared. Where Mujati, Manoa, Lawes, Hartley and Wood were once the heroes, the standout names this year are Reinach, Hutchison and Collins – all likely to cut a defence to ribbons as they showed at Sandy Park. Biggar at flyhalf has enjoyed his own personal renewal too, adding an instinctive distribution game to his canny tactical kicking and solid defence. They will surely bring much to what should be a high scoring match, but will need a big stroke of luck to conquer Sandy Park.

 

Saracens

Premiership Champions and also European Champions in 3 of the last 4 years, they are understandably bookies’ favourites, a nose ahead of Chief challengers Exeter. They build their game on intensity, a cleverly executed kicking strategy and clinical counter attack to complement the brutal defence that first brought them to the top of the Premiership 9 seasons ago. Their longevity in the Top 4 is double that of Chiefs, they are founded on the core of England’s pack in George, Itoje, Kruis and Vunipola and in the backs can rely on Farrell, Barritt and Spencer to keep their game going forward. They also have the most undervalued Englishman of the Eddie Jones era in Alex Goode, capable of outstanding play and surprises at either 15 or 10. It will be a shock if they do not make yet another final.

 

Gloucester

If ‘Glaws’ are to surprise the Saracens, most would expect Danny Cipriani to be the architect of that triumph. He has undoubtedly lit up their season, his self -discipline and team ethic a revelation and much of his play in break and distribution sublime. Johann Ackermann though will be looking to his forwards to make the Cipriani magic possible. Old warhorse Ed Slater, a clutch of hard nosed South Africans and dynamic back rowers Polledri, Ludlow and Morgan will need to be at their very best. If they are, then the Cherry and Whites can offer plenty of exciting running threat from the likes of Atkinson, Sharples and find of the season Ollie Thorley, not to mention at scrum half the choice between Heinz and Vellacott. They will give it their all, but will that be enough? It seems unlikely.

 

Who Bath fans will root for is of course a personal decision and highly subjective. Not long ago, Exeter were many neutrals’ favourite, for the romance of their rapid rise and the creativity of their game. For the past two seasons that inventiveness has been mostly replaced by a pragmatic game of rugby trench warfare, making progress by inches through persistent close quarter forward drives. Effective, but predictable and after a while unexciting. That style is the dominant Chiefs image this season, masking the occasionally breath taking quality of their back play. Many will hope for an underdog triumph, although as one of those is Gloucester, derby sensibilities may prevent them gaining much support from the Rec. Personally, I am opting for Saracens. Not long ago derided as defensively oriented, cynical and mechanical, they have now developed into multi faceted champions capable of an all round or percentage game as conditions dictate. They have an admirable approach to winning which Bath could learn much from.

 

So much for the heart- what of the head? As with the bookies, I have to conclude that the last showdown will be between scimitar and tomahawk. By 6 PM on 1 June I expect the temples of the east to be happier than the tepees of the west.

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East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
21/05/2019 10:23
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2019:06:04:10:14:23 by P G Tips.

 
opti
Optimist (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
21/05/2019 11:05
'Many will hope for an underdog triumph, although as one of those is Gloucester, derby sensibilities may prevent them gaining much support from the Rec'

Not being a born-and-bred-Bathonian, I don't really have that innate distaste for derby rivals. The most interesting thing that could happen this weekend would be for Glos to cause an upset, and for that upset to be driven by stand-out performances from Cipriani and Morgan. I'd also like to see Vellacott (and Spencer) putting Eddie Jones' suspicion of pacy scrum-halfs to shame. And I still have a bit of a soft spot for Billy Twelvetrees - a player I think Jones could potentially have worked with to eliminate his error-count and build on his potential as a ball-playing but physical inside centre.

Plus - while Saracens remain, in many ways, an absolute model of a professional sports club and pretty much all of their players are hugely admirable, the fact remains that they have found a way round the salary cap and so are not competing on a level playing field, so I will never mind seeing them lose.

 
BathMatt53
BathMatt53 (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
21/05/2019 12:21
Agreed Opti, out of the 4 semi-finalists I would always cheer the underdog to make it more interesting - Glos vs Saints final would be fab with the way that both have been playing recently (and finish about 60-all in normal time).

[Adoptee 18/19: Man Mountain Dave Attwood, back in the BB&W and ready to smash]

 
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OutsideBath (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
21/05/2019 13:21
Will be supporting Sarries and Saints in the semifinals.

Tom Dunn - Adopted player 2018/19

 
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Clarkey3k (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
21/05/2019 14:06
Well done PGT, a great preview and one I wasn't expecting to read given our playing season is over. I will be cheering for Glaws [Cips, Banners, Morgan, Polledri, Thorley, Vellacott et al] and Saints because I find the Chiefs playing style a turn off.

I am also perturbed by the Sarries salary cap queries. If they have been breaking the rules to gain competitive advantage I would regard that as "match fixing on an industrial scale" and subject to the strongest penalties including loss of Cham Cup & Prem honours.

Adopted players: 2018/19 Michael Van Vuuren; [18] T Faletau; [17] D Denton; [16] H. Agulla; [15] L Houston; [14] W Spencer; [13] F. Louw

Change a life with a loan [www.deki.org.uk]

 
Awp24975
Awp24975 (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
23/05/2019 07:06
Both heart and head say Saracens to win it overall so that’s who I will be supporting. Their physicality and defence is a joy to watch and would love to see them do the double.

Having lived in Gloucester for a while as a Bath fan I can never wish them well (Cipriani excluded as the one Glos player I like).

Exeter, well I just can’t stand the noise, so I hope Saints do a job on them and then Saracens play like they did against Leinster and we end up admiring how good they are when it comes to the games that matter.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2019:05:23:07:07:13 by Awp24975.

 
TomReagan
TomReagan (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
23/05/2019 22:06
I've got a feeling that Exeter might beat Sarries in the final. Sarries are winners of course, but having won the European Cup, I just think Exeter might have that extra edge. As to who I'd like to win, I'd want a Glaws vs. Saints final as I think we need a change from the usual two dominating things, and both sides have played some great attacking rugby this season. If I had to choose, I'd opt for Saints, not because of local rivalries- the Glaws fans on our terraces have been pretty sound of late- but because I've enjoyed their recent style of rugby the most.

 
JL904
JL904 (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
24/05/2019 12:27
Sarries fan here.

Thank you, PG Tips for a most enjoyable preview of the semi's, highlighting the best of all the teams.

I'm certainly taking nothing for granted, and that's a fact. As an opinion (rather than a fact) - if we produce a repeat of the Newcastle 2nd half for the full 80 minutes, nobody will come close.

That's a big IF, though. To paraphrase the investment industry - past performance is no guarantee of future returns. As usual, whatever the results, I hope nobody gets an injury which jeopardises possible World Cup selection.

Wars begin when you will, but they do not end when you please - Niccolo Machiavelli

 
gaz59
gaz59 (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
25/05/2019 14:27
Jeez, Sarries are just playing on another level. Almost feel sorry for glaws .... nah, forget that last bit

 
BathMatt53
BathMatt53 (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
25/05/2019 14:34
Quote:
gaz59
Jeez, Sarries are just playing on another level. Almost feel sorry for glaws .... nah, forget that last bit

Yes. Men against boys at the moment.

[Adoptee 18/19: Man Mountain Dave Attwood, back in the BB&W and ready to smash]

 
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shipwrecked (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
25/05/2019 17:00
Exeter finding it easy too, have to say Devoto is having a great game!

https://i.ibb.co/sbQsmcr/darren-atkins-5.jpg


Darren Atkins Age 21 years, Fullback, 6 ft 1 in, 13 st 4 lbs. Sadly injured for the rest of the season!

 
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shipwrecked (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
25/05/2019 17:11
Extraordinary catch and the off load to bring Saints back into the game. 14-12.

https://i.ibb.co/sbQsmcr/darren-atkins-5.jpg


Darren Atkins Age 21 years, Fullback, 6 ft 1 in, 13 st 4 lbs. Sadly injured for the rest of the season!

 
MESSAGES->author
shipwrecked (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
25/05/2019 17:21
Massive let off for Exeter as Reinach, of all people drops the ball when clean through! HT

https://i.ibb.co/sbQsmcr/darren-atkins-5.jpg


Darren Atkins Age 21 years, Fullback, 6 ft 1 in, 13 st 4 lbs. Sadly injured for the rest of the season!

 
BathMatt53
BathMatt53 (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
25/05/2019 17:42
Reinach has his eyes on the line - wasn’t even a tough catch. He can be allowed one though given his performances this year, just hope it doesn’t cost them the game.

[Adoptee 18/19: Man Mountain Dave Attwood, back in the BB&W and ready to smash]

 
MESSAGES->author
shipwrecked (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
25/05/2019 20:36
Well, in the end a bit acedemic, I thought O'Flaherty's try showed amazing speed to run round the defense. Exeter v Saracens final. Saracens to win again I reckon.

https://i.ibb.co/sbQsmcr/darren-atkins-5.jpg


Darren Atkins Age 21 years, Fullback, 6 ft 1 in, 13 st 4 lbs. Sadly injured for the rest of the season!

 
BathMatt53
BathMatt53 (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
25/05/2019 21:23
Certainly hope so SW. Whatever you think about their financials they play some lovely rugby at times.

[Adoptee 18/19: Man Mountain Dave Attwood, back in the BB&W and ready to smash]

 
MESSAGES->author
shipwrecked (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
25/05/2019 23:51
Looking at the attendances both venue were at capacity. I wonder if CVC's involvement moves the semi final venues to Twickenham with a back to back semi-final day to maximise revenue.
It would be fairer in my view as well.

https://i.ibb.co/sbQsmcr/darren-atkins-5.jpg


Darren Atkins Age 21 years, Fullback, 6 ft 1 in, 13 st 4 lbs. Sadly injured for the rest of the season!

 
OBinFiji
OBinFiji (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
26/05/2019 04:21
Except there would be no point in finishing in top 2 then. Once you've qualified you could sit back - which would be detrimental to all the other teams who were/weren't playing for something. Accept that this sort of happened this season - because the top 2 were so far ahead, but thats unusual, surely.

OBinFiji

 
Boldangrey
Boldangrey (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
26/05/2019 09:29
Quote:
OBinFiji
Except there would be no point in finishing in top 2 then. Once you've qualified you could sit back - which would be detrimental to all the other teams who were/weren't playing for something. Accept that this sort of happened this season - because the top 2 were so far ahead, but thats unusual, surely.
OBinFiji


Is that a bad thing?

 
MESSAGES->author
shipwrecked (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
26/05/2019 11:45
Thing is OBF, that this is a problem with the playoffs. When did the away side last win a semi-final?

CVC will look for tweaks, I just think this is quite an obvious one.

https://i.ibb.co/sbQsmcr/darren-atkins-5.jpg


Darren Atkins Age 21 years, Fullback, 6 ft 1 in, 13 st 4 lbs. Sadly injured for the rest of the season!

 
Sara'sman
Sara'sman (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
26/05/2019 13:20
Quote:
shipwrecked
Thing is OBF, that this is a problem with the playoffs. When did the away side last win a semi-final?

2013 - we lost to Saints, other 33-16
2014 - nearly (Saints 21 - 20 Tigers) other reasonable 31-17
2015 - we won at Saints, other 47-10 (enjoyed them both!)
2016 - one big home win (44-17) one reasonably close (34-23)
2017 - nearly both (Ex 18 - 16 Sarries, Wasps 21 - 20 Tigers)
2018 - big home wins

So of previous 12, twice, nearly in 3 others, not so close in 7 (only 4 big).

But I'm mainly here to say thanks to PG for another interesting read (and to repeat a previous comment that I enjoy reading your board - the "England Fly Half" thread being just one example of pleasant, well informed debate, with opposing views respected).



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2019:05:26:14:20:08 by Sara'sman.

 
gaz59
gaz59 (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
26/05/2019 14:31
Six to one are very big odds in a 2 horse race

Not sure about the idea of back to back semis at HQ. Is there any other sport that does this successfully?

I would have thought an exeter v bath semi would be 60k plus on its own

 
gaz59
gaz59 (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
26/05/2019 14:32
Six to one are very big odds in a 2 horse race

Not sure about the idea of back to back semis at HQ. Is there any other sport that does this successfully?

I would have thought an exeter v bath semi would be 60k plus on its own

 
MESSAGES->author
shipwrecked (IP Logged)

Re: East Meets West: Gallagher Premiership Playoffs
26/05/2019 15:01
Quote:
gaz59
Six to one are very big odds in a 2 horse race
Not sure about the idea of back to back semis at HQ. Is there any other sport that does this successfully?

I would have thought an exeter v bath semi would be 60k plus on its own

That's a fair point Gaz, all four regions play back to back in a "judgement day" game. But with the attendance in the Prem being greater it could easily be over one weekend. I just thought back to back so there would be no argument relating to recovery time.

https://i.ibb.co/sbQsmcr/darren-atkins-5.jpg


Darren Atkins Age 21 years, Fullback, 6 ft 1 in, 13 st 4 lbs. Sadly injured for the rest of the season!

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